Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 10

In chapter 7 of Myth..., Greg offers two hot topic examples of evangelical Christians in America being the "moral police" or "moral guardians" and some very interesting commentary on these issues as well.

1. Homosexual Marriage

To illustrate, more than a few have noticed the comic irony in the fact that the group most vocal about "the sanctity of marriage," namely evangelical Christians, happens to be the group with the highest number of divorces in the United States, which itself has the highest divorce rate in the world [cites 2 articles, in addition to Barna]. Numerous explanations have been offered by Christians to minimize this embarrassment, but none of them are convincing--or even relevant. Whatever our excuses, outsiders legitimately wonder, "If evangelicals want to enforce by law 'the sanctity of marriage,' why don't they try to outlaw divorce and remarriage? Better yet, why don't they stop worrying about laws to regulate others' behavior and spend their time and energy sanctifying their own marriages?

Do evangelicals fear gay marriage in particular because the Bible is much more clear about the wrongfulness of gay marriage than it is about the wrongfulness of divorce and remarriage? No, for the Bible actually says a good deal more against divorce and remarriage than it does against monogamous gay relationships. Do they go after this particular sin because the research shows that gay marriage is more damaging to society than divorce and remarriage? It seems not, for while one might grant that neither is ideal, there's no clear evidence that the former is socially more harmful than the latter--especially given the fact that divorce and remarriage is far more widespread than gay marriage. But in any case, this point is completely irrelevant since the present issue isn't over gay unions. The issue is only over whether these unions should be called "marriages." To the best of my knowledge, no one has shown that the social welfare of our nation is significantly harmed by what monogamous gay unions are called.

He continues, with biting sarcasm:

We evangelicals may be divorced and remarried several times; we may be as greedy and as unconcerned about the poor and as gluttonous as others in our culture; we may be as prone to gossip and slander and as blindly prejudiced as others in our culture; we may be more self-righteous and as rude as others in our culture--we may even lack love more than others in the culture. These sins are among the most frequently mentioned sins in the Bible. But at least we're not gay!

I want to continue to capture his words on this point, so here is his summary and analysis.

Tragically, the self-serving and hypocritical nature of this moral posturing is apparent to nearly everyone--except those who do the posturing. And just as tragically, it causes multitudes to want nothing to do with the good news we have to offer. While the church was supposed to be the central means by which people became convinced that Jesus is for real, activity like this has made the church into the central reason many are convinced he's not for real. If I had ten dollars for every time I've encountered someone who resisted submitting to Christ simply because they "can't stand Christians," I'd have a fairly robust bank account.

There's nothing beautiful or attractive about thus sort of self-serving, hypocritical behavior. The beauty of the cross and the magnetic quality of Calvary-quality love has been smothered in a blanket of self-righteous, self-serving, moralistic posturing

And again,

In our role as public representatives of the kingdom of God, Christians should stick to replicating Calvary toward gay people as toward all people), and trust that their loving service will do more to transform people than laws ever could.

2. Abortion

If there is an exception to Boyd's point, it would certainly be abortion, right? He tackles this issue head on, and starts off with a few points/questions to help us grasp this issue in America today:

1. There are many "difficult metaphysical and ethical questions to consider." (Like, when does it become human? When does the baby get a soul and take on the image of God? Is the morning after pill as bad as a late term abortion? How much should the government legislate vs letting the woman control her own body? etc.)

2. How will other political issues, like how to best help the poor, which has an undeniable link to abortions, affect how you vote?

3. "The polarized way the issue is framed in contemporary politics is largely a function of various groups trying to gain power over each other for what they believe to be the good of the whole."

The distinctly kingdom question is not, How should we vote? The distinctly kingdom question is, How should we live? How can we individually and collectively come under women struggling with unwanted pregnancies and come under unborn babies who are unwanted? How can we who are worse sinners than any woman with an unwanted pregnancy--and thus have no right to stand over them in judgment--sacrifice our time, energy, and resources to ascribe unsurpassable worth to them and their unborn children? How can we act in such a way that we communicate our agreement with Jesus that these women and their unborn children are worth dying for? How can we individually and collectively sacrifice for and serve women and their inwanted children so that it becomes feasible for the mother to go full term? How can we individually and collectively bleed for pregnant women and for unborn babies in a way that maximizes life and minimizes violence?

We answer these disticntly kingdom questions not with our votes but with our lives. And, note, we don't need to answer any of the world's difficult political and metaphysical questions to do it. The unique kingdom approach to abortion isn't dependant on convincing ourselves and others that we have "God's knowledge" about highly ambiguous questions. It's based on our call to love as Jesus loved. There's a sacred woman; there's a growing life inside her, which, however it got there and whatever speculations one holds about its metaphysical status, is a miraculous creation of God. And the only relevant question people need to answer is, Are we willing to bleed for both?

Thought on Boyd's treatment of either of these issues?

Next time we will look at chapter 8, "One Nation Under God?"


Nate Watson said...

I agree with boyd on most of his points, although it would seem that he is as insensitive in his address to "evangelicals" as he accuses them of being to those of liberal mindset/lifestyle (liberal in comparison to conservative evangelicals, that is) much as I can without yet having read the book. What does he purport to be the link between abortion and poverty?

Matt Brinkman said...

Hey Nate, I think in this situation Greg has to be allowed to be insensitive in his address to "evangelicals," as he feels is necessary. Sometimes to get someone's attention you need to grab them by the shoulders and give them a hearty shake.

Early on, Nick linked to MP3's of the sermon series that the book is based on. What struck me listening to the sermons on this topic, was that Greg didn't stop with the easy divorce/remarriage analogy (heck, even I made that connection), but stepped into the areas of greed and gluttony.

Nate, if you haven't listened to the sermons yet, you may want to give them a try. What seems harsh in this post comes across way differently when you listen to it.

nate said...

Sure I get that, but I really wanted to know was what Greg's thoughts were on the Abortion/Poverty connection.

In encasing evangelicals in quotations I was suggesting that the term is Archaic...similar to Nick's view on Heresy...but hey, maybe it's all semantics.

Do you suppose that "evagelicals'" approach to homosexuallity is their attempt to get their attention? To give them a hearty shake? I see no difference in Greg's approach. Maybe you could shoot me an email matt, my address is posted on my blog. I appreciate your insight, and think some more private dialogue may be the words of a Jerry Springer guest, "You don't know me!!!" haha, just kidding.

Nick said...

Hi guys. Thanks for your comments. My internet has been down, which is why I haven't responded before now.

Concerning "evangelicals." It is safe to say that, yes, Boyd is painting with a wide brush. Certainly not all evangelicals fall into this category, like me for example (though I'm not sure I even accept the term "evangelical" about myself anymore). But, I think we can all see truth in what he is saying, and I think he is doing a great job of putting his finger on the average, white, middle-aged evangelical.

Matt is right, too. Boyd is not mincing words, but boldly making a point, so there may be some insensitivity there. I agree, too that the sermon series is far better at capturing mood than my limited posts.

Concerning the link between poverty and abortion, he does not cite a source, but here is the direct quote. "...or is it better to minimize abortion by, say, voting for the candidate and party you think will best help the poor, since there is a demonstrable link between the rate of poverty and the rate of abortion in the U.S.?"

It would be interesting to see stats on this, showing that the abortion rates are higher per capita among the poor than other sectors. Maybe I'll do some research.

Thanks guys!

Chip Burkitt said...

I don't know about what statistics say, but it's pretty easy to see that an impoverished woman who gets pregnant is in a much different situation than an affluent one. Even if she is married, the couple may need her income to survive. If she's single, her prospects are likely to be even worse. In addition, abortion clinics (and their advertising) are more prevalent in poor, urban communities. Some have seen in this fact a pernicious willingness to prey upon the poor. I think it is more likely misguided compassion.

nate said...

yes...that's what I was going for. Great insight Chip. "misguided compassion..." reminds me of Romans 1:20ff. The Spark of the divine in humanity inspires everyone to seek the do good will, but often we miss the mark...we are misguided.

Matt Brinkman said...

Just to provide some numbers...

Abortion rates among women living below the poverty line are four times those of women living at 300% or above of the poverty line.

Three fourths of all women who have abortions claim that one of their reasons for making that choice was that they are unable to afford to have the child.

On a related note, the infant mortality rate dropped 10% from 1995 to 2000 and have leveled off since then. Glen Stassen (an ethicist and Baptist theologian) believes that this leveling off is due to the increased population of people without health insurance.

See this article by Glen Stassen for Sojourners and the references therein.

Nick said...

Thanks Matt!!! I think those stats pretty much just confirmed what we knew: that there is a link between abortion and poverty.

You guys have been a bit silent against Boyd's larger arguments regarding abortion and homosexuality. Care to share your thoughts?